Making It Happen for Yourself
Earlier this month, Trina Nurse graduated from the School of Social Work as part of the Class of 2022. She is now working as a Blue Ridge Fellow at the Robinhood Foundation and, in the fall, will begin as an Office of Community Services (OCS) Economic Mobility Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She is also excited to be joining the Columbia Alumni Association Board of Directors.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the saying ‘echa pa lante’ (Spanish for ‘go forward’), but that’s my motivation,” Trina said. “There’s no goal too small or too big for you. Make it happen for yourself.”
Trina’s drive and motivation comes from her childhood upbringing in a Dominican household in Crown Heights. Her mother worked as a home attendant and didn’t complete high school. Her grandmother dropped out of school at six-years-old to care for her siblings. Trina said school wasn’t a requirement in those days, instead the mindset focused on survival. This upbringing, though, gave her “a balance of recognizing how important it is to fight and work for what you want.”
As a kid, Trina would at times serve as a translator for her family, accompanying her grandmother to the Public Assistance office, where she would fill out forms and try to translate. From an early age, she saw first-hand how difficult “the system” could be, but her grandmother pushed through and made things happen.
“Make it happen for yourself,” Trina reiterated. “I’m very grateful for those experiences because English was my second language, and I joke around now and tell people ‘when I feel under pressure, I forget English.’ But that’s the beauty of our culture, being able to navigate through so many different things.” As a graduate of the School of Social Work, Trina will empower and accompany people pushing through life challenges. This summer will start as a Blue Ridge Fellow at the Robinhood Foundation, where she will be expanding digital equity for low-income New Yorkers. In the fall, she will start as an OCS Economic Mobility Fellow, working in residence at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There, she’ll focus on partnering with the state, communities, and agencies to reduce the cost of poverty and increase economic security.
We were poor, but we were rich at the same time because of that foundation of love. On the first day of school my mom always made sure I had brand new clothes and supplies. To this day, I always feel like I’m a millionaire without the money attached to it.
Despite her family’s varying levels of education and the challenges that come with moving to a new country, her grandmother taught herself how to read and write because she wanted to preach in the Pentecostal church. Her aunt, the most highly educated in her family, pushed Trina to continue her education, playing a large part in her journey to Columbia. Though she lived and worked in the Dominican Republic, she encouraged Trina and helped motivate her when she became a mother in high school. It was this foundation of support and drive from her family made Trina recognize how important it is to fight and work for what you want.
“We were poor, but we were rich at the same time because of that foundation of love,” Trina recalled. “On the first day of school my mom always made sure I had brand new clothes and supplies,” she said. “To this day, I always feel like I’m a millionaire without the money attached to it.”
Looking back on her family’s perseverance when she was a child, Trina says she would often minimize their achievements. But after meeting her boyfriend—now husband—whose family faced challenges with citizenship after immigrating from Guyana, and starting a family of her own, she says she better understands the challenges that immigrant families face. She encourages her children to embrace their cultures and accomplishments.
“It’s very important for me to showcase what being a Dominican is,” Trina said. “Even though I was born in New York, my household was very Dominican and I feel like my family gave me that foundation of being a proud Dominican.”
Although her family wasn’t familiar with what an Ivy League school was before Trina came to Columbia, they still let her know how proud of her they are for fighting to overcome obstacles and making history to get to where she is today.
When it comes to Immigrant Heritage Month and sharing her pride in her culture, Trina underscored the critical importance of seeing diversity in settings like Ivy League schools, because they can bring a different perspective and inspire others who also want to thrive and grow.
Trina likes to joke that everywhere she goes she likes to take some wepa (Spanish slang for joy/excitement) with her.
It’s very important for me to showcase what being a Dominican is. Even though I was born in New York, my household was very Dominican and I feel like my family gave me that foundation of being a proud Dominican.
As Trina approached her graduation, she reflected with pride on her accomplishments and the challenges she had to overcome to graduate. She hopes that by sharing her story, she can encourage others to make the best of their situations and celebrate themselves.
“I made it happen and I feel like—in our culture—it’s very important to highlight that our current circumstances do not define our future,” she said. “Wherever you go, Ivy League or not, be your true authentic self.”